I should have seen this one coming when I heard Sharron’s voice on the phone. “Maddy?”
I need your help. I have a plan, but I cannot pull it off alone. I want to surprise the residents of that high-rise old folks’ apartment building with flowers.”
“You mean to send them all flowers? Are you crazy? That will cost a fortune, even if we get them at Walmart and deliver them ourselves. There must be two-hundred people living there!”
“No, I have a different kind of floral delivery plan.”
“No, this is a great idea, but will you help me?
“Sharron, this time, I want to know what I” m getting into. I won’t get arrested again, will I?"
“NO! Well, we shouldn’t.”
“You know those planters outside the Senior Citizens’ apartment building?
on Brady road?”
“Yes, they’re really nasty. Dead plants and graffiti were all over them. Why?”
“I want to do some secret community service. I want to spray paint them black instead of that ugly cement and fill them with the proper plants. The first ones they put into them were doomed from the start. The planters get full sun all day, and they planted them with Impatients and Hostas, and poor babies got fried.”
“Sharron, this sounds like a pretty big job. There are four huge planters there! And how will you pay for the soil, plants, fertilizer, etc?”
“I started a go-fund-me, and I have $5OO!”
“Huh. So what’s your plan, exactly?”
“This is so cool. I recruited five volunteers, and you’ll make six!”
“Where did you find them?”
“Well, two are students at MSU, and the other three live in the area.”
“Yes, but they’re good hearted, and I told them I’ll bring them dinner and breakfast, a huge incentive for them.”
“I’m getting donuts at a discount from the bakery (don’t tell anyone, but they’re day old.) But we’ll probably have to work all night, so breakfast.
I get those all the time, and they’re fine. And coffee. I need to borrow your coffee pot.”
“Of course you do. Okay.”
“And coffee. Oh, creamer and sugar?”
“I can do that. As long as I get some, too.”
“Of course! So are you in?”
“Do I have a choice?”
“So when is this caper happening?”
“Monday at sunset. Only a few people are around then. Bring a headlamp and flashlight.”
“I better make a list. Coffee pot, sugar, creamer, headlamp, flashlight.”
“And some garden tools.”
“So, we’re doing this in the dark?”
“Kind of. I’d love the old folks to wake up and see the beauty right outside their windows.”
“Sigh, Sharron, you have this all planned. You know you sometimes tend to get carried away and then lose interest, and I don’t want to take on too much.”
“I’m Bipolar, not crazy.”
It amazed me when I arrived. Five people were already there, scarfing down donuts two at a time. I filled several travel mugs with coffee; of course, there was no place to plug in the coffee pot. And she said breakfast, but it was 7 pm.
“A blue van saying “We’ll suck your septic for less pulled up.”
Two women jumped out, unloading flats of portulaca, marigolds, nasturtiums, and herbs; basil, parsley, dill, and oregano! There were also some tomato and assorted pepper plants. This was looking like a good idea.
“Sharron put pieces of cardboard around the base of the planters and two homeless guys began painting them shiny black. They looked great against the grey cement plaza.
Unfortunately, many of the apartment residents must be named Mrs. Kravitz because, as we nearly finished painting the last large cement planter, the police showed up. We explained the situation, but they informed us we needed a permit to paint them. They gave us a ticket for $150 that we could contest in court. The officers told us they liked our work so far. Sigh. We took photos of the before and after, hoping we’d get away with a warning.
Next, we started loosening the soil, which we realized was just ‘dirt,’ hard-packed city dirt. We’d need some bags of compost to replace it. So, I called my husband and asked him to bring about 40 bags of good-quality potting soil, NOT that black stuff, mostly sand. He started asking questions, and I didn’t want to waste time explaining asking questions, so I said, “Bye.”
He called back, “Where are you?”
I told him.
“What are you doing there after dark? I thought you had a class tonight?”
“Just work with me here, okay? It’s for a good cause.”
That seemed like a good idea, but my husband thought he had a better one. He arrived with his buddy with a huge pickup full of topsoil from ‘their friend." “Hey, sweetie, it’s free!”
“I reached in and pulled out a handful. It was soil, yes, but now what I wanted? “Where did this come from, Mark?”
“You know that place on M15 that sells topsoil?”
“Yes.” Oh my God, I thought.
“Well, the owner owes my friend, Jack, here a favor, so he gave it to us for cost.”
“What’s cost, exactly?”
“I had no words.”
Meanwhile, the volunteers were shoveling the dirt from the planters onto tarps. So my beloved and his friend were forced, by me, to refill the planters.
Sharron came over. “Where did the donuts and coffee go?”
“They’re gone. The volunteers ate every one of them, the coffee, and the extra coffee I bought from Jim Horton’s. I’d like to be reimbursed for those because Mark and his buddy spent $300 on the soil.”
“Oh. Well, I'll figure something out, Maddy. I spent the go-fund-me money on plants.”
“Five-hundred dollars on plants?”
“We need a lot to fill the planters.”
Next, we all put on our headlamps and began filling the planters, a much bigger job than any of us expected. We could dump bags of potting soil can in, but we must shovel a pickup truck full of soil in.
Next, several Kravitz people tottered out to see what was happening. We told them, and they were less appreciative than we expected. “Don’t leave a mess!” “Why are you doing this in the dark? Are you crazy?” “Keep the noise down. We need our sleep.” Great.
The large planters were finally emptied and refilled. Two of the volunteers disappeared, with the few remaining donuts, which Sharron bought for when we finished early morning. Then the pizza delivery came, and the two missing volunteers returned with several ‘friends. Sharron locked the pizzas inside her borrowed van.
“Hey! They’ll get cold!” the returning guys complained.
“I don’t care. Besides, y'all should be full of the dozens of boxes of donuts you ate.”
They begrudgingly went to work and filled the last planter.
Next came the planting. Sharron and I arranged the cell packs and plants where we wanted them planted. It would be so lovely, with the marigolds and nasturtiums protecting the herbs and veg from bugs and the portulaca opening brilliant assorted colors each morning. I was feeling more hopeful and less tired.
I glanced over in one corner of the plaza and saw fire! Then another! Good God! I dialed 911 and gave them the directions, trying not to freak out.
I looked for Sharron. Nope, nowhere. The fire department arrived within minutes with lights and sirens. The apartment manager and several of our volunteers evacuated the told the apartment. Which was a bit tricky when some of the street people tried to help but had trouble with that.
Sharron returned, “What the hell is going on?! I had to go to the bathroom, and it was like trying to get into the pentagon in the apartment building!"
So, all the residents came with canes, walkers, and portable oxygen tanks, some in scooters or wheelchairs. whew
They put the fires out, and a very annoyed fire chief asked for, “Maddy Schultz!”
I raised my hand, and he barked, “Lady, those were just burn barrels the homeless guys brought.”
“But it’s not cold out. Why?”
“I don’t know why, but they always have them. Maybe they’re having a weenie roast, but your call was unnecessary, and now the poor old folks are all upset, and we have to take them back into their apartments to be sure they’re all inside and safe.”
“Sorry, I didn’t know.. . didn’t mean.” But he was gone, yelling orders to anyone who would listen.
Sharron, my husband, and his friend descended on me, asking, “What was that all about? Are you okay?”
Sharron said, “Well, this was hardly the Banksy kind of event I’d hoped for.”
“Sorry, Sharron. I panicked when I saw the fire, and it reflected in the window, so I thought.”
Sharron unlocked the still-warm pizzas and shared them with the volunteers, some elderly residents, and the firefighters. We had to order more."
However, after sunrise, the planters, sans graffiti, freshly planted, shiny black, and filled with colorful flowers, herbs, and veg, looked spectacular. Even the grumpiest Kravitz residents agreed it was a lovely surprise.
And to our surprise, the firefighters took up a collection, and several residents donated, so we only have about $600 in fines and pizza costs to pay for.
However, we never instructed our helpers to remove the plants from the cell packs and pots. Sharron and I spent the next day planting them properly, then had to haul water to finish the job under the guidance of a dozen elderly supervisors.